In an article published last week, City A.M.’s Bespoke magazine laid out an apocalyptic view of the future of cinema, which made for lurid reading but was completely divorced from the economic facts.
Where to begin? Far from being on a ‘downward curve’ – your phrase – cinema box office on both the global scale, and within the UK and Ireland, has been growing year-on-year for more than a decade. In 2016, driven by growth in China in particular, global cinema box office reached a record $38.6bn while our domestic figure was almost £1.33bn, also a record. This year we are well ahead even of that, reaching the £1bn box office point on 24 September, a full 14 days before the same figure in 2016. Clearly no-one has told the cinema-going public about this apparent crisis.
Taking trends for US box office, as the author seems to do, and extrapolating these to be symptomatic of the health of global cinema sector is misleading. While growth in the former has been limited over recent times, that of the global market has been significant.
While the collapse of the physical home entertainment market – and the failure as yet of digital content to make up the difference – is in no-one’s interest, it does mean that cinema now typically accounts for around half of a US studios’ film takings over its lifetime. Not something easily or painlessly foregone by the industry.
In the UK, we are seeing unprecedented levels of investment in every aspect of the cinema-going experience. That is benefiting customers not just at the largest circuits’ sites and in the booming ‘boutique cinema’ sector, but also at a large number of local smaller cinemas up and down the country.
While the kind of initiatives described in the article such as hot tub cinema and secret cinema add to the overall ecology, it is the many more established cinema sites of all types and sizes who are making the biggest difference to their communities, through parent and baby screenings, silver screenings for older cinema-goers, event cinema screenings of ballet, theatre and opera, and an increasing range of accessible screenings for disabled customers and their families.
And of course colleagues in film distribution continue to deliver when it comes to content. A few months ago you could hardly move for those commenting that Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk was a ‘must-see’ on the big screen, and now Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is receiving similar accolades. It’s hard to envisage similar encouragement when it comes to the smaller screen viewing experience.
There is always of course more that cinema can do to engage and excite audiences – and the investment mentioned above is intended to be part of the answer. As for the threat from PVOD lying in wait, haven’t we been here before?
Commentators confidently predicted that a range of in-home developments such as TV – black and white and then colour – VHS and DVD would see the demise of cinema. Yet the public appetite for the immersive out of home experience, which only cinema can offer, remains undiminished. The notion that the sector is in some way in free-fall or approaching some cliff-edge is simply wrong.